Water quality was once an issue isolated to a few individual watersheds and seasonal outbreaks of algal blooms in a handful of places. Today, it is a concern being raised from coast to coast, from the Midwest to the Mississippi River, from Oregon to Florida and from Ohio to Louisiana.
Nutrient loss hits the bottom line first
Lakes, river basins and municipal water supplies are all impacted by nutrients and chemicals finding their way in, and we are all impacted by their ultimate imbalance on some level. A number of sources cause the issue, but we can’t deny that nutrient runoff happens. And if it does happen on our farm fields, doesn’t that mean that the valuable nutrients we're putting down aren’t getting into the crop as we intended?
How can we manage nutrients and reducing their loss or runoff to not only protect our waterways, but also to ensure that we aren’t watching our fertilizer budget wash away? If nitrogen and phosphorus are showing up down river, doesn’t that mean that some of the inputs we paid for aren’t making it into plants?
Efficiency comes in many forms
Here are four scalable options that can be adopted to better protect local watersheds and your fertility investment:
- Holistic nutrient management: Always remember your 4Rs of Nutrient Stewardship – Right Product, Right Rate, Right Timing, Right Place. Pay attention to crop growth stages and know how much of what your crop needs when. Making nutrients available all at once (putting everything down in one pass) may be the easiest, logistically, but not the best plan for the crop's uptake of nutrients. This doesn’t just go for the macros, like N, P and K, but for any micronutrient applications as well. It can really make a difference in your nutrient strategy to understand nutrient interactions on a deeper level.
- Cover crops: Cover crops, such as clover and vetch, help with nitrogen (N) fixation and can immobilize N that would have otherwise been removed from the field at harvest. Leguminous cover crops can convert atmospheric N, making it more available for the next crop as the cover crop decays. They also help mitigate loss by taking up and using N that would otherwise have been lost to leaching.
- Conservation tillage: Leaving crop residue in the field through no-till, strip-till or other conservation tillage efforts can reduce soil erosion by as much as 60-90 percent. Reducing erosion thereby reduces runoff – and reducing runoff keeps nutrients from “running” into the watershed (and leaving your crop without them).
- Buffers: Conservation buffers, such as riparian buffers, filter strips and grassed waterways, slow runoff and enhance filtration. If properly maintained, they can remove 50 percent or more of the nutrients and pesticides that might otherwise move into nearby waterways.
- Optimizing application rates by seed: Start by looking at a few ways you can tweak nutrient application practices based specifically on what you grow. Nitrogen use efficiency is going to be different based on the seed you plant. With nitrogen analytics in FBN℠ Seed Finder, you can see yield results on thousands of varieties from millions of real world acres.